The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
"At what time or by whom the Gospel was first preached in the Imperial City is unknown. That it was at an early period may be inferred from the circumstance that, when Paul wrote this Epistle, the faith of the Roman Christians 'was spoken of throughout the whole world' (chap. Romans 1:8). It is probable that some of those 'strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,' who were present at Jerusalem on the great day of Pentecost, Acts 2:10, carried back to that city the knowledge of the Gospel. And it is not improbable, also, considering the constant intercourse between Rome and the provinces, that some of the numerous converts to Christianity in Judæa, Asia Minor, and Greece, might soon have found their way to the capital. That some of the persons concerned in the establishment of the Church of Rome (two of whom Paul mentions as having been converted earlier than himself) were Paul's particular friends, with whom he had met while preaching in Asia and in Greece, is evident from the form of the salutations in chap. Romans 16:3-16.
"The date of this Epistle is very precisely fixed by the following facts. Paul had not yet been to Rome (Romans 1:11, Romans 1:13, Romans 1:15). He was intending to visit it, after first visiting Jerusalem (Romans 15:23-28), and this was his purpose during his three months' residence at Corinth, Acts 19:21. He was about to carry a collection from Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem (Romans 15:26, Romans 15:31): and this he did carry from Corinth to Jerusalem at the close of his visit, Acts 24:17. When he wrote the Epistle, Timothy, Sosipater, Gaius, and Erastus were with him (Romans 16:21, Romans 16:23). Gaius was his host, and resided at Corinth, 1Corinthians 1:14. Erastus was himself a Corinthian, and had been sent shortly before from Ephesus with Timothy on their way through Corinth to Macedonia, Acts 19:22; 1Corinthians 16:10-11; and the first three are expressly mentioned in Acts 20:4 as being with Paul at Corinth. Phoebe, moreover, the bearer of the Epistle, was a member of the Church at the Corinthian port of Cenchrea (Romans 16:1). As Paul, therefore, was preparing to visit Jerusalem, one of his converts was also departing from Corinth, in an opposite direction, for Rome, and by her this Epistle was taken to that city. Its date is thus fixed, a.d. 58." Angus's Bible Handbook.]
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,Romans 1:1-7
1. Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle [a called apostle] separated [set apart unto] the Gospel of God.
2. (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy Scriptures,)
3. Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;
4. And declared lo be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead [read, of the dead]:
5. By whom we have received [rather, through whom we received] grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith [obedience to faith] among all nations, for his name [or, for his name's sake]:
6. Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:
7. To all that be in Rome, beloved of God [rather, To all God's beloved that are in Rome], called to be saints [Lit. called saints]: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hitherto we have only known Paul as a speaker; in that capacity he has created a space for himself; after he began to preach, all other persons seemed to cease: now that he begins to write, all other writers will stand behind him. How well that name looks at the head of the First Epistle, according to the present construction of the English New Testament!—"Paul." Some people regret that he ever wrote: he created the Theology of the Church, he introduced controversy into a family of peace and love and hope; he represents the intellectual element of the Church, he seems to be all reason, argument, controversy. I rejoice that he ever wrote. No man has been so ill-used in the Church, in the pulpit, in the press, as the Apostle Paul. He has been turned into a kind of preliminary hint that a man called Calvin was to be born in the course of the centuries. Paul seems to have been handed over to this man Calvin. Now we have in Christ's Church Calvinism: what an intrusion; what an offence; what a blasphemy! There ought to be nothing in Christ's Church but Christ. Men interrogate one another now as to their relation to Calvinism: could they grieve the spirit of that great man Calvin more than by thus exaggerating his importance? He wished to be a modest, wise, zealous reformer and teacher; he never meant himself to be carved like a wooden idol, and set up at the church door that men might uncover before him as if he were a species of Deity. If there is any man in the wide universe who is not a Calvinist, his name is Paul. If any man ever arose to proclaim the universality of the love of Christ, it was the converted Saul of Tarsus. Paul will have everybody brought in, if they will come. How he smites the Jews who pride themselves upon their election to Divine privileges; the key of the Pauline argument, or the secret of the Pauline enthusiasm, you will find in chap. Romans 2:11, "For there is no respect of persons with God." How conveniently men pass over such passages and fasten themselves upon mysteries and most wonderful words which they cannot understand. How delighted men are to lose themselves in arguments they cannot adjust. Simplicity itself cannot go farther than this—"There is no respect of persons with God." And again Paul says, "I am a debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the Gospel to you that are at Rome also." When we come to the ninth chapter, which is full of that ghastly figure called the potter, we shall find, under what I conceive to be a right interpretation, that the chapter glows with Divine love.
How does Paul describe himself? "A servant of Jesus Christ.' Some titles we would take from men, because we are able to prove that they have no right to them; the title is larger than they are; they perish under a weight of ornamental nomenclature; when Paul announces himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, all who have studied his life up to this point, as we have done in this People's Bible, will say, that is right: truer servant God never had; more willing slave never followed the chariot of the Cross: let Paul be crowned the prince of the servants of Jesus Christ. Paul would have called himself by a name which in English seems to be lower than servant; again and again Paul describes himself as "the slave of Jesus Christ," as who should say, I must always be under the chains of my Lord's captivity, I disdain any liberty that does not hold me in sweet bondage and fealty to the Son of God; I want no freedom that is not centred in, and sanctified by his Cross. When some men come into even this description of servitude they seem to be following out a species of natural sequence; we are not surprised that they should so superscribe or subscribe themselves: but when we trace the history of Paul, and remember that his name was once Saul; when we recount his pedigree and mark his haughtiness, and then find such a man writing himself "slave"; we cannot forbear the exclamation, "What hath God wrought?" We expected to find Peter here, yet we find Paul. Is Peter displaced? Certainly not: but every man will stand according to his faculty and his service in the summing-up of things. Nor should there be anything invidious in this classification; it should be felt to be right, harmonic, necessary, and the farthest off should bless the farthest forward as a brother and leader and friend. If "Paul" had stood alone as a name, we should have said, this Pharisee has not yet been cleansed of his vanity, and pride: but when he describes himself as the "slave of Jesus Christ," we feel that he enters the arena in a right spirit, and we cannot but listen to him to hear whether it is Paul that speaks, or the servant of Jesus Christ that claims and entrances our attention. The Apostle proceeds farther in introducing himself, describing his office as an apostleship, and his apostleship as a Divine investiture. The words are "called to be an apostle." What a call was necessary! what a voice was needed to reach a man who was so far off! The voice had to travel across deserts, and forests, and boiling seas, and mountains that shadowed the sun. Whom God calls to office he calls from eternity. That startles us, and forces our little peddling minds into theological distinctions, simply because we have an element which we call Time. God has no such element. Time cannot hold him. If he come into any moment of time it is as an accommodation, an infinite condescension, a very miracle of self-humiliation. All God's calls start from eternity, and return to their origin. How difficult it is for us to sustain the sublimity of this glorious doctrine! We love the little because we are little ourselves; we are bounded on every side, hemmed in, shut up, enclosed, nearly crushed by the little cage we live in. In Jesus Christ we are called to look upon eternity, infinity; upon the countless, the boundless, the measureless: towards this ideal we are to grow, and as we grow towards it we do not neglect the little, but glorify it. Nor is the Apostle yet contented with his description, for he adds these words, namely, "separated unto the gospel of God"; meaning that he would never have anything else to do; signifying that from all other attractions, charms, vocations, engagements, he had been for ever detached; distinctly announcing that, hence on, whoever inquired for Paul must ask for, "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ." Without such consecration we may well suspect our call. When did God call upon men for a half-heart, for part of time, money, power, influence? When was God content with any outside corner of our affection and solicitude? God claims us all, for he made us all. He wants our reason and imagination and conscience and will and affection, every element and fibre and particle of tissue entering into the mystery of manhood. We have given God the patronage of a finger: he asks us for the homage of the heart.
In the first verse we have a standard by which all Christians must describe themselves. Let us then imagine ourselves putting our names in some such descriptive form. Up to the writing of the name, we are strong and clear; we could write what stands for "Paul" with a firm hand: now add the descriptive expressions! Every man must do this for himself. It will be an edifying exercise, if a man will go into solitude and write down just what he knows himself to be. No human eye should see the paper on which he writes. Dip the pen in the heart; let the inkhorn be loaded with blood: now write—not what men think you are, not what you wish the world to suppose you are, but what you are in your inmost soul. Fire will be too cold to receive the document which you have penned. Let us suppose there are persons who could write a record they would be proud of; then we are not proud of them. The supposition is not that we are to write what society judges us to be, or what we are in reality in relation to society, for in that relation there are good and bad, respectable and disreputable, honourable and base; the supposition is that we are to write upward to God. We dare not deceive or mock the most High. By the motive he judges. He knows whether a dream would shape itself into actual benevolence or not, he understands the going of the heart; not a tick of life's little pulse but God knows the meaning of. It would do us good to write autobiographically sometimes, not from the point of incident or event or happy chance or lucky progress, but an autobiography of the soul, what it is, what it thinks, what it wants, what it suspects, what it dreams: no man could read his own writing!
Throughout the introduction to this Epistle there is hardly any attempt at what we call definition. Great terms are used, and are left to make their own impression, which is the best way. The worst thing to do with the Epistle to the Romans is to try to explain it. Read it, commit it to the heart, let it fall into all the play of life's rough music, and its meanings will come, as birds come in springtime, and as buds grow in the night and surprise us in the morning, and as love reveals itself in new shape and colour and tone, even after we expected we had exhausted the precious mystery. The Church has ruined itself by definitions; because the Church now stops at the definition, and does not go right through to the vital feeling and the necessary and eternal reality. All men are not mentally equal, so why plague all men with the same definitions? Define for yourselves: love God in your own way. What have you to do with my definitions, or I with your definitions? We may have them, we may be edified by them; but we must not harden them into dogmas with which to choke young faith, young hope, young love. All men have not been technically trained; therefore why force upon all men technical definitions? All men are not equally interested in definitions: why drag down all human minds to the same level? Some men do not live in definition; they live in love, in hope, in emotion, in imagination, in great gushes of sacred feeling, which do not die as foam dies on the wave, but which tend towards the stimulus of beneficence, and all manner of heroic and sacrificial action. If there is a sentimentalism which comes in like a whiff of smoke upon a wave and dies upon the beach, we all have an equally low opinion of that kind of sentiment; but there is an emotion which acts upon life like a dynamic force, moving all its mechanical appliance and apparatus into powerful action: the value of that particular kind of emotion can never be exaggerated. How do men conduct themselves when they come into possession of great estates? There are persons so learnedly foolish as to be their own lawyers; their heads grow grey over the consideration of subjects they were never trained to comprehend; to that peculiar kind of social philosopher I have nothing to say: there are other men who argue thus: I have come into this great estate; all questions of title I must leave with the lawyers. To a certain degree we may profitably follow their example in matters religious. No doubt there have been geniuses who have had almost an inspired gift for the creation of difficulties in theological study; far be it from me to take honour from any man; if, therefore, any man claims that he has been the creator of theological difficulty, the palm be his who wins it: others of us must say, We have come into a large estate, and we must leave theological titles to the theologians; we cannot do better; we could make nothing of such titles. And the theologians can make nothing of them; but as they have nothing else to do they may as well suppose themselves to be busy. Theology is the ruin of the Cross when it is hardened into unchangeable forms; when it has undergone that process of torture which represents, not a piety, but a blasphemy. We cannot be theologians, but we can be humble, broken-hearted, active, generous, self-sacrificing Christians. Faith is greater than any definition of faith, as God is greater than any definition of God. What is faith? We cannot tell, but we feel it; the action of a new life enlarges us, makes us see things in heaven and earth we never saw before, gives us sweet contentment even in the very heart of earth's whirling cyclone; a marvellous peace blesses us in the exercise of an energy or aspiration which we describe by the name of Faith. That marvellous term means a hundred things; it may be a hundred different things, yet their differences are all harmonisable, and can be all brought into one expressive and vital unity. In one man, faith is a new imagination, a higher mental faculty, a keener intellectual penetration; a softer, tenderer, moral condition; a noble confidence, an assurance, never to be perturbed that all things will end in rest and glory: to others, faith is an almost visible angel that takes hold of the soul and leads it to the Cross: to others, faith is an almost audible angel that talks in whispers in the darkness, and speaks of morning when every star is dead: faith, to others, is a grand moral constraint, causing them to work, give, and suffer, that others may be blessed. Love is greater that any definition of love. We have had occasion to say in these studies that no man can define love. If you want to see a lexicographer with all his honours on him set him to work on a polysyllable; there he works away, like a dog with a bone: he has no time for anything else than lexicography when he is among the sesquipedalia verba. If you wish to see a lexicographer really humble, ask him to define "Home," "Love," "Peace," "Life." These are all little words of four or five letters. Where his greatness now? where the dignity that filled his guest with awe as the residence of the lexicographer? All gone! For pity's sake I sometimes refrain from expecting the dictionary to explain love, because if I were to look for it I should feel as if I were inflicting a kind of cruelty upon some anonymous friend; so I turn to some grand polysyllable and let the lexicographer show me the whole of his elaborate nothings. We cannot too frequently repeat what has already found a place in these annotations. A poor woman came with the request that she might be allowed to partake of the elements of the Lord's Supper; she was examined in the Catechism, and could answer nothing; she had her attention called to the standards, and could make no reply; she was asked for her views, and she had none—blessed was that woman amongst women! The orthodox examiner said that, under these circumstances, she could not be permitted to come to the Lord's Table. The great hot tears came into her eyes, and she said, speaking of Christ, "I cannot answer these questions, but I could die for him." The examiner was a wise man, and he said, "Then come to this Table." That is the kind of emotion we do not underrate: we do not ask people to come to the Table or to the Cross of Christ through a long process of questioning; we say, What is your heart's desire? Bring all your sin with you, and all your ignorance, and all your dumbness as to theological eloquence, and tarry in silence till your Lord speaks to you. Definition is impossible. We cannot define what is infinite; we have no need to trust to definition, for religion if anything is a revelation, not an intellectual discovery. The temptations of definition are insidious and most hurtful; they tend to elicit intellectual vanity; one man can define and another man cannot define; then, what an invidious distinction is created between the two men! We are bringing a worse crucifixion upon Christ than the crucifying of his body by the creation of little priests and popes, who call themselves the authorised expositors and definers of eternal truth. To see these men on the common highway hurts me; I want to unclothe them, and send them back to their proper insignificance; whatever significance they now have is an affair of clothes and decoration, not life, indescribable and boundless as enthusiasm. To think that one little soul holds something that you, working, toiling, mercantile men, do not know is an affront to common-sense; it is absurd from end to end. Yet, it flatters the poor fool. If any man has learned more in the heart than I have learned, let him be my teacher; he will not stand at a distance from me and speak down to me, but we should reason together. There is an educated heart, there is a cultivated feeling, there is a sanctified masonry and brotherhood. When the heart has enriched itself with innumerable views and conceptions of truth it will come and whisper them all, tell them all, as a little child babbles out its story, and will never say, you are scholar and I am teacher; you have had no advantages, and I have had very great advantages: but there will be a community of interest, in the holy excitement of which the first shall be last, and the last shall be first, and the uppermost, divinest theme shall be that we are both put in trust with the treasure of God. Are there then to be no ministers? Certainly there must be ministers, but they must be ministers who feel their littleness and their worthlessness; they will not be ministers who want to know what somebody thought fourteen or fifteen hundred years ago. I would rather take the opinion of some poor broken-down woman on the streets of London on certain passages of Scripture, than I would take the opinion of any council that ever was evoked by emperor or pope If the last boy who has passed through the common school does not know more of God's universe than ever Augustine had the chance of knowing, then civilisation is living backwards and will shortly fall into the barbarism from which it sprang. We do not want to go to Augustine. We have as proper respect for him as we can have for anybody that never did us any good. We want to go where he went. Arise, let us go to our God! All we want for the understanding of Jesus Christ's life is Jesus Christ's Spirit.
Almighty God, we stand in the righteousness of Christ, for we have no righteousness of our own. He is our righteousness; he became sin for us that we might sin no more, but that we might become holy as our Father in heaven is holy. We bless thee for this aim at conduct; we would that our character were rooted in God, nourished by all the grace and consolation of heaven, and made beautiful by all holy actions towards observing man. We would be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect: how can this be with mortal man? We come to thee, the author of the aspiration, that thou mayest also fulfil it; this desire is from the Lord; we therefore know that thou wilt not forsake us when we endeavour to realise it in daily conduct. We bless thee for the Gospel; it is light, it is music, it is eternal joy. We are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because it has made us new creatures: old things have passed away, all things have become new. We now see ourselves in God's light, now we judge ourselves by the Divine standard, now we see the emptiness of time, the oncoming of the grandeur of eternity. May we walk as wise men, redeeming the time, answering all the appeals of Providence with a glad heart and an obedient will; receiving from thee the dispensation of the day without murmuring, oftentimes with joy and gladness of heart; but whether it be up the hill or down the valley, or on the stormy water, only thou, Saviour of the world, be near us, and we shall know that we are always going home. Amen.